I read Mark Kermode’s newest book on the flicks to while away a hungover Sunday afternoon. Kermode, a professional film critic, hasn’t missed the fact that his job is looking more and more like an old media relic. Twitter quotes are used on movie posters, and anyone with a wi-fi connection can bung a review online. Plus aren’t critics fusty old snobs who deserve to be taken down a peg? Taking on the criticisms of critics and the evolving critical landscape (hells bells, there’s a fart-sniffing phrase for you), he romps through the current state of moving picture writing, online and off.
This is not a beard-stroking analytic defence, it’s a book about having ‘the perfect job’ of seeing movies for a living and how that is (or is not) changing, with some anecdotal flourishes from Kermode’s lengthy and colourful career.
In my case, the dude is preaching to the choir: not only am I someone who is very occasionally financially remunerated for writing down my opinions on things, I owe a huge amount to various reviewers who helped me discover many new worlds. Growing up in suburban NZ in the eighties-nineties, there was only so much exposure to ‘different’ movies/music/books/scenes I came across naturally, and it was in magazines and newspapers that I began to find the clues that would lead me to more interesting landscapes. I vividly remember discovering the collected works of Julie Burchill, which lead me to reading the NME and Melody Maker, and Joe Queenan, who lead me on to Sight & Sound magazine then Pauline Kael and my head exploding. My family tended to take the reactionary point of view against my newfound cultural snobbishness – ‘The “critics” trash movies real people love’ kind of thing – which predictably drove me up the wall (still kinda does, the idea that ‘the critics’ are some sort of singular entity, like The Borg).
Kermode makes a solid argument for passionate interaction with movies. He doesn’t try to make out that a movie review can be great art, though I’d argue that it certainly can be – not only that, good film writing has the same joy as the 70s exploitation flicks he loves, that it contains art where you don’t expect to find it.
While he’s not my favourite film writer (<3 you, Peter Bradshaw), and this hasn’t become my favourite ever book about movies (shameless excuse to big up Antonia Quirke’s magnificent memoir Madame Depardieu and the Beautiful Strangers aka Choking on Marlon Brando), and he tends to stretch out it’s anecdotal structure to breaking point – I don’t really care why you’re dressed up in costume when you receive a text message at the pub, honestly – it’s a fun read. Maybe I’ll send it to one of my cousins who I had so many vicious arguments with.